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review 2018-08-05 17:42
The Passage: Vampocalypse Now, or at Least 2008-ish
The Passage - Justin Cronin

It's twenty minutes into the future, and an aggrieved FBI agent is rounding up subjects that no one will miss. Twelve of them are death row inmates: the thirteenth is an abandoned six-year-old, Amy Bellafonte. They are to be injected with a serum from a Bolivian bat virus to create (all together now) super-soldiers. The "virals" get vampire-y, the vampires cause mayhem, and after breaking free they overrun the United States and possibly the world. But that's only about a third of the story.


Once this several-hundred-page build-up is out of the way, we cut to ninety years later. In a stockade in California called the Colony, the descendants of a few survivors rely on lights to repel the virals, and the rechargeable batteries that power those lights are wearing out. Incredibly, a "walker" shows up for the first time in decades. After a fracas getting her inside the walls, the community blames the members of the Watch whose decision led to a few deaths. Before mob justice can be completely executed, a small group of companions flee the Colony, determined to find out what has happened to the rest of the world and to solve the mystery of the walker – who is none other than Amy. Not only has she survived countless viral attacks, she's barely aged in all this time.


The plot that ensues is hard not to compare to "The Stand," primarily because it's a story about a diverse array of scrappy blue-collar heroes who confront evil by walking across post-apocalyptic America. The characters aren't exactly the same, but the feel is vintage Stephen King. Psychic powers, unethical government experiments, maternal black women, stashes of weapons that even the odds with terrifying monsters, Biblical overtones and the infrequent nuclear blast – all these elements are King oeuvre.


Of course, my question when reviewing is less "has it been done before?" but "is it being done well now?" And yeah, it's not bad. The build-up to the outbreak keeps the pages turning, and the backstories of the pre-outbreak characters build some sympathy. Post-apocalypse, the dramatic moments when someone is taken by virals but *isn't* instant vamp chow make sense most of the time and lead to characterization moments. And though there are sequels, there is a reasonable amount of closure at the end of the first book. Considering it's a hefty 879 pages in paperback, I'd be angry if there weren't.


There are weaknesses, of course. The post-apocalyptic characters are a little more interchangeable than the well-drawn ones of the beginning. When a human encampment seems too good to be true, the twist is predictable (though the exact particulars still make for a good scene). The apocalypse feels straight out of small-town America's 2005 anti-terror/disaster preparation fantasy rather than harsh reality, or at least the impassable highways full of abandoned vehicles and degraded fuel of "The Stand." It's hard not to think of Mad Max or its South Park parody when the people of the Colony refer to "The Time Before" and use other uninspired slang. And there's a minor deus ex machina for a few characters near the end, called out in dialogue but left unanswered in this volume. (At least it wasn't the literal Hand of God setting off a nuke in Las Vegas.)


All that said, "The Passage" still feels like a genuine epic, one of those novels that starts out like a horror show and morphs into a battle of good versus evil. And if Stephen King were the only person who could write such a story, the world would be a drearier place. It was obviously written during the height of the War on Terror, but there's one notable quotation that still rings true:

"All this time, we were hoping the Army would come to our rescue," says Alicia, "and it turns out the army is us."

3.5 out of 5

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review 2012-07-06 00:00
Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Price
Hemovore - Jordan Castillo Price

Oh, I loved this book.

Jordan Castillo Price is one of those authors that makes me glad I bought an e-reader, because otherwise I doubt I would ever have read Hemovore or Among the Living, which I also enjoyed. At the same time, however, I found myself wishing that I had been reading Hemovore in paperback form rather than e-book form. There were several times I would have liked to have been able to flip back and forth between parts of the book in order to confirm certain world rules, and that would have been easier to do with a paperback.

I had a hard time figuring out, at first, whether Mark was just a paranoid germophobe, or whether all his precautions were justified. Even after it became clear that, yes, his precautions were justified, I still had trouble wrapping my brain around the way Hemovore's world worked. As contagious as the hemovore virus was (much more contagious than HIV), I wouldn't have been surprised at all if Mark managed to catch it from Jonathan while they were on the run. In fact, I couldn't really understand why the hemovore virus hadn't taken over the whole world already, since stage one was easy to mistake for normal illness and V-positives were already contagious at that point. In the U.S. at least, V-positives seemed to inspire both fear and fascination, and I couldn't quite get a picture in my head of how that would work.

None of my questions about the world were enough to get in the way of my enjoyment of this book, however. Mark's “voice” was appealing: snarky, quirky, and a little neurotic. If I hadn't long since abandoned marking favorite lines in my e-books (the controls on my e-reader are annoyingly clunky), I'd probably have marked up a good chunk of this book. An example of one of the lines I enjoyed so much: “Dear Lord. I'd become a celebrity in the goth-vampire freedom-fighter circuit.” (p. 98 on my Nook). I also loved the part where Jonathan forced himself to try one of the flavored oil shakes, for lack of any other food.

The only time I found myself wishing parts of the story had been told from Jonathan's perspective was after Jonathan finally revealed how he felt about Mark. It was such a bittersweet, heartbreaking moment, but I was still left feeling a little unsatisfied, wondering what it was about Mark that attracted Jonathan to him in the first place. Jonathan, as far as I can remember, never said. Still, I enjoyed how the setup, with Jonathan and Mark unable to touch each other with their bare skin, kept the sexual tension high and prevented sex scenes from taking over the book.

Although Jonathan and Mark spent a good chunk of the book running and hiding, it never felt monotonous. Things kept progressively getting worse for them. They had no blood and Jonathan was resistant to taking Mark's – in fact, he wasn't even sure he could keep Mark's blood down if he did drink it. They had cash, but not much. They needed antimicrobial gloves and gels in order to keep Mark from catching the virus from Jonathan, but all those things cost money. They needed to stay out of the sunlight, which limited their hiding and traveling options. The list of obstacles in their way went on and on, and I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how they would survive.

I'm still not sure whether I like the ending. I don't mind that it's happy, but I found it a little surreal that Mark went from being Jonathan's cat blood-procuring, painting-selling assistant to genius art critic. Even so, I loved the book as a whole, so much so that I'm considering getting a print copy in the event that my e-book file becomes unusable in the next few years. I tend to worry more about the longevity of my e-book collection than I do about my print collection, and this is one I don't think I'd want to lose.


(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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